I’m standing in the NGV’s Ian Potter Centre while Brisbane artist Sandra Selig is installing her 2011 work, Heart of the air you can hear. It’s an intricate web of string in bright fuchsia.

While Selig busily weaves bright nylon threads into the gallery’s walls, I’m trying to listen to another Brisbane artist, Ross Manning, talk about his work, Spectra VI, which takes up most of the first room.

“I like to use ready-made objects because there’s already so much stuff in the world,” Manning explains of his new work, the sixth in his ongoing Spectra series. “Sculpture gives them new life.”

His work is a moving sculpture, created from household fans and different-coloured fluorescent tubes. As the fan lurches back and forth it sets the rainbow fluorescent lights into their own orbit. The result is a mass of unfurling colour, and as you walk through the space your own silhouette is cast in multiple hues across the walls. Manning tells me, “Colour can change a space and the consciousness of the viewer, and make you aware of time passing.” There’s that – and it’s just really cool.

This is just a taste of The Kaleidoscopic Turn, a new exhibition that plays on colour and movement and spans decades, continents and styles; from 1960s Op Art to contemporary sculpture.

“There was an unofficial tagline for this show while we were putting it together,” says assistant curator Serena Bentley, “which was ‘Colour, Light, Sound’.” Using these guiding principles, Bentley and the NGV’s curator of contemporary art, Jane Devery, trawled the NGV archives for everything from installation and video art to sculpture and painting.

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“We started with the two new acquisitions,” says Devery. “And that allowed us to look back at some of the historic works that have influenced these artists. Often we hang these works in a historical context, so it’s really nice to put them next to work from the last few years.”

This is a show full of interesting connections. Devery says that Selig’s work, for example, speaks to the work of seminal ’60s Op Art proponent Bridget Riley, whose work appears opposite. Riley’s work uses stark colour contrasts and repetition to make (often unsettling) optical illusions, much like that of her contemporary, Stanisluas Ostoja-Kotkowski. Ostoja-Kotkowski, meanwhile, has influenced emerging Sydney-based artist Jonny Niesche’s piece in the show, Total Vibration.

There are some nice personal connections, too. Diena Georgetti appears opposite John Nixon, whose work inspired her to create art in the first place.

There are more pieces of note, not least Zilvinas Kempinas’ hypnotic Double 0, and several pieces acquired from last year’s Melbourne Now – but at its best this show is about manoeuvring the space and seeing how these pieces interact with each other across decades and continents.

Perhaps the heart of The Kaleidoscopic Turn is Angela Bulloch’s Short, big yellow drawing machine, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a growing installation work consisting of a record player rigged up to a stylus drawing a single yellow line, back and forth. It wavers mechanically, stimulated by the recorded sound and by the ambient noise of the room; it looks like the results of a seismograph or a lie detector. Early attendees will see just a few yellow lines. By August, the wall will be a visual recording of The Kaleidoscopic Turn’s six-month run. It brings us full circle to Manning’s Spectra VI, and how colour can change a space and the consciousness of the viewer – and alter the way we see the passing of time.

The Kaleidoscopic Turn runs from March 20–August 23 at the NGV’s Ian Potter Centre in Federation Square. Entry is free.